Thursday, 24 July 2008

Bearly Living...

When we entered the TransRockies Run we weren't thinking of charity or changing the world etc, but once we entered we realised it would be foolish and irresponsible not to raise some fund for worthy causes while we were at it.

Jo chose to raise funds for MacMillan Cancer Support because she knows of several people who had suffered from cancer and to whom MacMillans made a huge difference, whether to help them in their recovery or to make their final journey that little bit more bearable.

I chose to raise money for WSPA (World Society for the Protection of Animals) because some of their causes I feel very passionately about. I'd like to focus on one of these causes in my quest for your charity if I may - bile farming. What is bile and what are it's benefits? What are the alternatives to bile farms? I guess I should answer these key questions before I condemn bile farming.

Bile contains a key ingredient called ursodeoxycholic (UDCA) - a molecular magic bullet which heals by expelling excess heat from the body. Apparently it aids in treatment for anything from flabby libidos to cancer. UDCA has been shown to work - it is thought it plays a key role in a bear's ability to hibernate. It's effects come from it's ability to keep cells alive beyond their pre-programmed lifespan (self destruction through a process called apoptosis). All animals have UDCA in their bile - it's just that bears have the highest concentration (American Black Bears coming out on top).

Before this all backfires on me and you all go out looking for the closest bear bile supplier, there are alternatives to getting UDCA from bear bile. It is possible to synthesize UDCA from scratch (but the process is complicated, hence expensive) or one could use a cheap readily available source - slaughterhouses. If you're going to kill cows, pigs and turkeys then you may as well extract UDCA from their gallbladders - this form of UDCA is available today online for as little as $13.50 a gram (much cheaper than black market, bear, bile extract). There are also herbal alternatives to UDCA that have been proved to work.

So, what's so bad about getting bile from bears?

There are two ways of getting bile from a bear, kill it or farm it; (via surgery) stick a (steel) catheter into it's gallbladder and milk it once or twice a day. Killing bears is becoming less feasible as they are now an endangered species in Asia (where bear bile demand is greatest) - the illegal killing of wild bears for their gallbladders has even spread to North America.

So, how about bear bile farming? Imagine being in a cage. Imagine that cage is so small that you can hardly turn around, sit up or stretch out. Now imagine being unlucky enough to survive...for up to fifteen years in that cage. The lucky ones (about half) die during (or soon after) surgery which is carried out by farmers who have no veterinary training. There are 7000 bears in captivity in bear bile farms in China (and another few thousand across the rest of Asia). WSPA visited one-third of these and as you can guess the behaviour of the bears was pretty much what you would expect from any living thing being kept in these atrocious cages, and many bears had infections/wounds around their catheters.

This is one of many worthy battles that WSPA fights. If you care about living in a world populated with wild animals (rather than just farmed animals or pets) then please sponsor me (link on the right).

Yes I know it would be pretty ironic if I was to get killed by a grizzly bear while we're running the TransRockies...if that happens then you have permission to laugh - but only if you've sponsored me ;)

Thanks for listening


The Journal of Life Sciences - "A Bear Market", by Julian Smith (May 17th 2007)

Consumer report on the trade in bear gall bladder and bear bile products in Singapore, by Animal Concerns Research & Education Society (ACRES)


Blogger Freddi14 said...


George just booked the Best Western after reading your comments. He says they have a block of rooms set aside for Transrockie runners. We are also getting in on Friday. My family is coming out on Wednesday and staying at Beaver Creek. They will be there for the finish line IF I MAKE IT!

I am also stressed still trying to figure out what to bring and what shoes to run in. I got the pack thing taken care worried about food/snacks/water etc...

You would have to bring up Bears!!! I am having nightmares about bears...they keep chasing me down the trail!!!


24 July 2008 at 15:41  
Blogger Sat Sandhu said...

Yes George posted a comment to let me know about the booking - I've emailed him.

Hopefully we can move to Best Western too (George has offered to give them a call for us).

Yes I am a little worried about the bears too - my approach is going to be to kick them between the legs when they rear up (just before they think to eat me). I hope that works - although I've never heard of that approach being used!!! :O

Stressed - time seems to be going very quickly now :(

24 July 2008 at 16:00  

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